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The fundemental case in scottish consumer law came about in 1932 when Mrs Donoghue was bought a ginger beer float by a friend, in a cafe. The drink tasted unusual, and when the ginger beer bottle was emptied, a decomposing snail was found. Mrs Donoghue was violently ill, and sued Stevenson, the manufacturers of the ginger beer, claiming that they had a responsibility to bottle their products in a hygenic manner, and to inspect them, so that bottles with snails in them would not be sold.

However, Stevenson argued that yes, this was an unfortunate incident, but that they had not sold the bottle to Mrs Donoghue, they had sold it to a wholesaler, who had sold it to the cafe, who had sold it to her friend, who had given it to her. If anyone was eligable to sue them, it was the wholesaler, who would be entitled to sue for breach of contract (as the contract of sale specified ginger beer, but no snails).

The case was heard in successively higher courts, until the house of lords ruled in favour of Mrs Donoghue, saying that
"The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbour; and the lawyers' question, who is my neighbour? receives a restricted reply. You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who, then, in law is my neighbour? The answer seems to be - persons who are closely and directly affected by my act and that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so effected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question" - Lord Atkin

In other words, it is illegal to act in such a way that it could be reasonably forseen that such an action could lead to another being directly harmed. For example, selling a car with a fuel tank known to be defective could reasonably be forseen to cause harm, and the explosion of one would directly harm the driver. However, someone witnessing the incident, and dying of a heart attack could not be said to be directly harmed.

The consequences of this ruling are wide-reaching, and affect everyday life - the ruling is part of common law, and anyone acting irresponsibly is open to legal action. Something to think about before parking your car in an odd place, or leaving a circular saw unattended...

Lord Atkin's speech quoted from http://www.fenwick-elliott.co.uk/public/articles/uni.htm